SINGAPORE - They hawk their wares brazenly by the road in broad daylight, selling illegal sex drugs known to have dangerous effects, and even slyly slipping in an offer for a date with a prostitute.
These sellers, who seem to be mostly from China, have turned a Geylang traffic junction into an open-air market for illicit health products, playing a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities, who have stepped up enforcement efforts in recent years.
On May 18, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) seized more than 94,000 units of 80 different types of illegal health products from an apartment in Geylang, most of them sexual enhancement drugs. The products seized had a street value of over $200,000.
A day later, The Sunday Times dropped by the busy junction of Aljunied Road and Geylang Road in the early evening and saw more than 10 makeshift stalls openly displaying sex drugs for sale.
Most of the sellers were men, although two were women.
They would solicit business from passers-by. "My husband and I have tried these pills; they work very well, trust me," said one woman in Mandarin who identified herself as a native of Fujian, China. "These are very hard to get in Singapore. We are not supposed to be selling them."
She added: "I've got those that can make the man last longer, and those that will end it quicker."
The sellers described some of the drugs as "Viagra" for men and women. There was also oil to "enhance pleasure". Prices ranged from $5 a pill to $30 for tiny vials of oil.
Some of the products were on HSA's blacklist of illegal drugs, such as Black Ant King.
"Most of these are from China," said a vendor in his 20s, who introduced himself as Xiao Long from Guangdong province in China. "Those from Thailand and USA also have (sic), but cost more."
He said that he was in Singapore as a tourist and had been peddling drugs for more than a month.
"I get my supplies from a man who meets me nearby and I earn about $50 a day, after paying the cost," he added. "My supplier does not allow me to return the products I bought from him."
Xiao Long also offered other services. "Do you need to test the drugs?" he asked a male buyer. "I can introduce women to you."
Drugs proven effective to treat erectile dysfunction should be prescribed only by a doctor, and taken under medical supervision, said a spokesman for HSA. When taken unsupervised, these drugs could be especially dangerous for patients with medical conditions such as heart problems.
According to the HSA, at least 11 men have died and more than 300 have suffered nasty reactions over the past six years after taking illegal sex drugs. There have been no new cases this year, but a spokesman said there may be "consumers who experienced possible adverse effects without realising that they were caused by these products".
The products sold by peddlers could be "counterfeit or substandard, and may contain undeclared ingredients" that are harmful, added the spokesman. They may also be produced under poor manufacturing conditions with no proper quality control.
"HSA has stepped up its enforcement actions and is also working closely with other enforcement agencies to curtail the supply of these products," said Associate Professor Chan Cheng Leng, the deputy group director of HSA's health products regulation group.
"In addition to our enforcement actions, we have also stepped up our educational efforts on the dangers of these products, to drive down demand."
Measures include regular surveillance, checks and raids, as well as education campaigns, including the launch of an advisory booklet last year on the dangers of illegal health products targeted at adults aged 40 and older.
HSA's blacklist of illegal health products can also be found on its website. This is meant as a guide, and not as a comprehensive database, as the contraband medicines often surface in the black market under new packaging and different brands.
Those convicted of selling illegal health products containing potent medicinal ingredients could face imprisonment for up to two years and/or a fine of up to $10,000 under the Poisons Act.
Additionally, they could also be slapped with an additional penalty of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum of two years under the Medicines Act.
But these street sellers are unlikely to give up any time soon.
Said Prof Chan: "Supply is driven by demand and profit. Due to the continued demand and good profit margins, peddlers will still try their luck to peddle the goods whenever they can."
This article was first published on May 31, 2015.
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